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Without a “why,” all you have is a hobby

4 min read


It seems so simple: do what you love. Follow your bliss. Only do what you’re passionate about.

So on and so forth.

In life, these poetic ideas sound ideal, but the reality is, love is not always a good enough reason to start a business and a successful business needs more than passion alone.

Love and passion may be the catalyst behind work, but purpose is what sustains and grows business. And purpose can only be discovered when we ask ourselves the profound, three-letter-word question: why?

“It is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work.”
– Jim Collins, American Business consultant and author.

Why does “why” matter?

It is probably best to understand the importance of “why” with an example.

Take Jane, who makes jewelry because she loves to make pretty things. Jane has always had a knack for crafting and it is something she does to unwind and de-stress. Someone suggests to Jane that she should start selling her jewelry and turn her hobby into a money maker.

Sure, a great reason to sell jewelry is to make money, but “why” enter a highly competitive, saturated market? Why should anyone buy her jewelry over another designer’s creation? Why add stress to a pastime that used to eliminate stress?

Previously, Jane’s “why” was love for making things. If she decides to start a jewelry business, Jane’s “why” might be to delight customers with unique designs or to be a small part in brightening someone’s day. She can even add more purpose to her business by selling jewelry to raise money for a cause she believes in or create jobs for her local community.

Finding the response to “why” may not always come to mind right away but once discovered, it can provide the important framework and guidance that drives your business to success and set you apart from your competitors in the eyes of your customers.

Discover your “why”

Simon Sinek, author of “Start With Why” and the man behind the popular TED talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” is a staunch supporter of purpose-driven work and decisions. When he started his company, he hit a mental roadblock that led him to discover that in order for businesses to become successful, they must function on these three levels:

  1. Know what we do.
  2. Know how we do it.
  3. Know why we do it.

Next, you need to know if the answers to those questions are in line with what you want from your career or business.

Usually, the “why” gets lost when we are trying to figure out what and how, and that can be detrimental to the overall health of our businesses and even ourselves.

Meaning starts with mission

Remember when Jerry Maguire tried to write a mission statement for his agency? Yes, he was fictional and it was a fictional agency in a fictional story but the turning point for his career, like many in real life, was losing sleep over the why.

Sure, mission statements can be terrible, hackneyed, and clichéd, but they can also be just the opposite of that. A well articulated mission statement is the first, and most basic way, to let business owners and the people they employ know how their work ties into and contributes to the company’s “why.”

Empower people with purpose

It’s one thing to tell people their work has the potential to contribute to something larger than themselves, but instilling the power of why in the day to day is a much better way to embed this mindset into your company’s culture. Asking employees to be prepared to explain intent behind actions and decisions is one way Sinek says he achieves this with his company.

So what’s the takeaway here? Start simple and use love and passion to spark the fire and build something great. Just remember: What you build will need a foundation, and the more clear your reason, purpose, mission and motivations are from the beginning, the stronger this foundation will be. In other words, ask “why” early and often. Only then does your one-time hobby transform into a thriving and successful venture.

Tell us when you discovered your why and how it changed the roadmap of your business.

David Hassell is a serial entrepreneur and presently founder and CEO of 15Five, a SaaS company focused on helping individuals and organizations reach their highest potential that has been hailed by Fast Company as the “15 Most Important Minutes of Your Work Week.” Hassell formerly served as President of the San Francisco chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organization and was named “The Most Connected Man You Don’t Know in Silicon Valley” by Forbes.